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Closer Chronicle: Week 6

I came across an interesting debate on Twitter about the use of the saves in fantasy baseball on Sunday evening. Ray Flowers of Fantasy Alarm believes saves should be abolished, as closers have seemingly become more volatile by the year. I didn’t catch Flowers’ entire argument on SiriusXM Fantasy, but I would argue that closers should always have a place in the beautiful game we play. The Craig Kimbrel’s, Greg Holland’s and Kenley Jansen’s have all been worth the price of admission, but I can understand the frustration with ninth-inning roles constantly changing hands. The idea of team bullpens similar to team defenses in fantasy football came up in the Twitter conversation, but I believe that idea adds more wrinkles than solutions. So what do you think? Should saves be rid of? Should we start using a new statistic instead, such as shutdowns? I think we’re only touching the surface and we’re sure to run into an old school vs. new school debate. My vote is to keep saves and adapt to closer volatility by adjusting our draft strategy. I’d hate to see “Don’t pay for saves” turn into “Don’t play with saves.”

Tier 1

Craig Kimbrel, Braves
Greg Holland, Royals
Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
Koji Uehara, Red Sox

Kimbrel leads all pitchers with a 49 percent strikeout rate, but – surprisingly – he’s recorded only one Kimbrel (three batters faced, three strikeouts), which happened to be on Opening Day in a non-save situation. He already has nine multi-strikeout games in 12 appearances, and it’s hard to unseat the champ… People I know are complaining about Holland’s first month and change: he of 18 strikeouts and two walks in 11 innings. The American League’s best closer has started the year with seven straight saves and pinpoint control… Jansen is getting plenty of early-season love despite a 1.63 WHIP. I’m no hater, but opposing batters are hitting .281 against Jansen (compared to .231 against Holland), and he’s had some control issues (4.11 walks per nine). Jansen can overcome it (26 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings), but I prefer Holland by a nose… Uehara’s velocity is noticeably down, but he’s generating a career-best 21.1 percent swinging strike rate regardless. His zone percentage is up (50.5 percent in 2013, 53.6 percent in 2014), and he’s been stingy with three walks in 12 2/3 innings.

Tier 2

Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals
Glen Perkins, Twins
Sergio Romo, Giants
Addison Reed, Diamondbacks
↑ Rafael Soriano, Nationals
Joe Nathan, Tigers

Rosenthal still remains my No. 1 buy-low target at the closer position. The first-year stopper has eight punchouts over his last four innings, and he’s allowed just two hits in his last seven. Still without a blown save in eight tries, try and pry away the closer from his owner and sell hard on Rosenthal’s 5.02 ERA… Perkins has two strikeouts in six out of his last eight appearances and hasn’t walked a batter in seven straight. He’s the real deal. Perkins signed a four-year extension prior to the 2014 season, so it’s highly unlikely that the Twins would look to deal their best pitcher should they find themselves out of the playoff race early… Romo has only three strikeouts in his last seven appearances, but the K stopped being his specialty last season. He’s holding opposing bats to a .152 batting average, including .111 against lefties. Romo’s leash is long… Reed served up six home runs in 2013, but he’s already coughed up four with the Diamondbacks (two at home, two away), including a pair in the past week. It’s a little concerning, but three have been of the solo variety, as Reed’s placed just four batters on base via the free pass. The long ball hasn’t been a problem for him before, so I’m not panicking yet… Soriano’s ERA remains perfect through 11 innings, and he’s generating more whiffs than a year ago. He’s throwing the slider more, which has translated into more strikeouts and more happy fantasy owners… A lot has been made about Nathan’s velocity, but a 39-year-old throwing 91 is pretty damn impressive. After a string of bad ones, Nathan has gone four scoreless while allowing one hit and one walk with six strikeouts.

Tier 3

↑ Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers
David Robertson, Yankees
Steve Cishek, Marlins
↑ Joakim Soria, Rangers
Tommy Hunter, Orioles

Rodriguez is the No. 1 closer in fantasy with a league-leading 14 saves, and he’s currently operating with a perfect ERA, 0.65 WHIP and 24 strikeouts across 17 innings. Jim Henderson is sidelined indefinitely with right shoulder inflammation, giving Rodriguez an even longer leash in Milwaukee. K-Rod isn’t showing any signs of slowing down…Robertson is close to making the jump, but I’d like to see the strikeouts come up before moving him to Tier 2. He’s only generating a 22.2 percent swing rate on pitches outside of the zone, which is down from 26.1 percent in 2013. His first-pitch strike rate is also down at 46.2 percent, but remember he’s only appeared in seven games… A savvy owner in need of saves would target Cishek, who is criminally underrated in fantasy circles. I expect strong ratios and 20 more handshakes the rest of the way… Soria is a nice comeback story, with seven saves in seven chances and an impressive 14:2 K:BB ratio in 12 innings. His 11.7 percent swinging strike rate is his highest mark since 2009 (13.2 percent), when he saved 30 games for the Royals… Hunter is up to eight saves and his 2.3 percent walk rate is among the best in baseball. The strikeouts are even up (10 Ks in 10 2/3 innings), although I expect those to come down (career 5.42 K/9).

Tier 4

Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
Huston Street, Padres
Fernando Rodney, Mariners
Grant Balfour, Rays
↓ John Axford, Indians
Jim Johnson, Athletics

Papelbon and Street are turning into safe end-game options in a year of closer chaos. The duo has combined for 19 saves (one blown save from Papelbon), and both are low-end No. 2 closers for me going forward… Rodney picked up a four-out save on Saturday, striking out two and walking none. That’s four straight without a free pass. Rodney’s blowups are unavoidable, but he’s already struck out 18 in 11 2/3 innings… Balfour picked up two saves in one day against the Red Sox, and his velocity was up. It was a much-needed bounce back after giving up a walk-off grand slam to Jose Abreu in his previous save chance… Axford is the week’s biggest loser. After walking the tight rope for the first month plus, the Indians closer walked two and gave up a three-run shot to Dayan Viciedo on Sunday, pushing his ERA from 2.31 to 4.38. After turning in four straight innings without allowing a walk, Axford walked two for the third time in 10 appearances. One bad outing and Axford is back on thin ice with Cody Allen looming… I’m betting on Johnson getting the Athletics next save chance. Since being demoted from the ninth, he’s tossed 8 2/3 scoreless frames with nine strikeouts and two walks.

Tier 5

LaTroy Hawkins, Rockies
Matt Lindsrom, White Sox
Mark Melancon, Pirates
Jonathan Broxton, Reds

You could argue that Hawkins belongs in Tier 4, and that might be the next logical step if Axford’s struggles become more real. The Rockies closer has quietly gone about his business in Colorado, converting all nine save chances. The 41-year-old offers nothing in strikeouts, however, with five strikeouts in 12 innings. He continues to show solid command, so Rex Brothers, whose walked 10 in 14 innings, isn’t a serious threat… Lindstrom has four saves and three blown saves, but, hey, he has a ninth-inning job…. Melancon and Broxton are pitching on borrowed time, but Melancon is the better short-term addition. Aroldis Chapman is two or three minor-league rehab appearances from making his 2014 debut.

Tier 6 (next in line)

↑ Hector Rondon (Pedro Strop), Cubs
Joe Smith (Ernesto Frieri), Angels
Kyle Farnsworth (Daisuke Matsuzaka), Mets
Anthony Bass (Chad Qualls), Astros
Aaron Loup (Casey Janssen), Blue Jays

Rondon earned back-to-back saves over the weekend against division-rival St. Louis, and although manager Rick Renteria has yet to fully commit, Rondon is the best bet for saves in Chicago. The 26-year-old right-hander has 18 strikeouts and six walks in 16 innings. He was irresponsibly used in a non-save situation on Sunday… Smith has three saves since replacing Frieri, but Frieri has tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings since being demoted without allowing a hit or a walk. I trust that Frieri, who owns a 6.57 ERA and 3.53 xFIP, will get the job back…. Farnsworth blew his first save of the season on Saturday, giving up a two-run, walk-off home run to Charlie Culberson (Who?) Farnsworth received a vote of confidence from manager Terry Collins on Sunday, but fantasy owners can’t be all that confident in the 38-year-old journeyman… Farnsworth actually has a ninth-inning job, while the Astros are still employing a true closer by committee. Bass earned his second save on Saturday after Kevin Chapman gave up the lead in the ninth. Qualls is still in the mix as well… Sergio Santos was handed a golden opportunity when Janssen injured and then re-injured himself in Toronto, but he was completely lost in the role. Santos collected three blown saves while allowing three runs in each debacle. Loup, Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar could all receive save chances until Janssen returns in mid-May.

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